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Integrity in the NFL

Today is a reminder that many people think Tom Brady is a cheat. “Therefore he does not deserve the accolades he receives. He may be a skilled quarterback,” this reasoning goes, “but how can you praise someone who cheats to win?”

I realize New Englanders like the Patriots, while many in the rest of the country do not. I also realize these feelings of affection and resentment, which depend on where you live, rub off on the team’s quarterback. He leads the team, after all. Moreover, sins of the father are visited on the son. If coach Belichick broke the rules when he filmed signals from the sidelines, ancient justice calls for his quarterback to suffer.

If you like that kind of primitive reasoning, you are bound to find yourself in Roger Goodell’s camp. That is apparently how the NFL commissioner thinks. He can’t figure out how to discipline football players who punch out their wives and girlfriends, but he sure as hell knows how to kick some ass if a losing playoff team that plays gotcha instead of football finds a ball that feels slightly soft. We’ll make that boy pay, the NFL’s collective voice says, because our justice demands that people with integrity be branded as cheats.

Tom Brady is a gentleman. Roger Goodell does not even recognize that quality when he sees it. That is all you need to know to make a judgment.

Who will you trust in a conflict like this one? Will you believe a commissioner who took a million dollars from his friend Bob Kraft, then suspends Kraft’s quarterback for four games? Or believe an athlete who, given every quality of character he has displayed, would take his punishment without complaint if the commissioner’s charges were true? Tom Brady is a gentleman. Roger Goodell does not even recognize that quality when he sees it. That is all you need to know to make a judgment.

Brady fought for eighteen months to clear himself, but Goodell would not settle for a large fine after a vindictive campaign on behalf of almost all the other NFL owners. He went for total humiliation of his prey, to force Brady out of Gillette stadium and all team activities for a month, before the league and the league’s commissioner would be satisfied. Even if Brady were guilty – which he is not – Goodell’s behavior would be far worse than his.

Heroism on the field of battle

“We have them right where we want them.”

That’s what the Patriots are saying midway through the third quarter, trailing 28 – 3. “Now we have them.”

The whole country – the whole world – is thinking, “What a blowout.” This is like those Super Bowls from years and years ago, where teams lost by twenty-five points. And the Patriots!

Meanwhile, Brady’s teammates begin to think, “We have to start playing a little better here. If we don’t start playing a little better, we’re not going to win.” As one commentator observed:

It was not a lack of Falcons effort. It was not total carelessness. It was a failure to seize enough moments. To understand that Brady and the Patriots never flinch. It takes a clock at zero to beat them. It takes four quarters. Sometimes five.

After the game, I wanted to see Roger Goodell have to present that trophy to Brady, Belichick, and Kraft. I wish the Patriots fans had not booed. Booing always comes across as wrong, even when it is justified. The fans in the stands might have turned their backs on Goodell, in silence, rather than boo. Their audible, impolite disapproval traveled around the world, electronically. It gave people all over the United States another reason to hate the Patriots.

Remember, many people think Goodell is the good guy, that he upholds the league’s standards of fairness. They are wrong, but Patriots fans need not feed others’ dislike for their team. Bob Kraft, on the other hand, had just the right words for Goodell on the victory stand. Thank you, Mr. Kraft, for saying them.

After Goodell’s defeat, do you think this victory was not Homeric? Agamemnon tried to take down Achilles, in front of the assembled host at Troy, just as Goodell tried to take down Brady before the entire nation. Today, we remember Agamemnon as the overblown, arrogant puke who tried to puff himself up at Achilles’ expense. Achilles went on to inspire victory in the war Agamemnon started and almost lost. Sports historians will remember Roger Goodell versus Tom Brady. They will remember one of them as a hero. With last night’s victory, no one has any doubt who the hero is.

President Trump should ask Vladimir Putin to return Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl ring

In this time of celebration for Tom Brady, his team and his family, President Trump could do something that would be of huge symbolic value no matter how it turns out. He could ask Vladimir Putin to return Bob Kraft’s 2005 Super Bowl ring. Trump need not accuse Putin of theft, or even suggest anything like that happened. He should say, “We think a misunderstanding occurred here. Please, for Mr. Kraft and for our friendship, return the ring.” He should make the request public.

No matter how Vladimir Putin responds, Trump would have done the right thing. He says he wants to make America great again. Leaders of great countries stand up for their people, famous and not so famous. Donald Trump and Bob Kraft are good friends, but Mr. Trump should make this request not primarily for that reason, but because it would help the country regain its self-respect.

President Obama’s White House forced Bob Kraft to declare the ring a gift, back when Putin stole it in 2005. In that case, our leaders did not stand up for a prominent citizen who suffered this loss while he represented the United States during a diplomatic good will mission. Now Kraft wants to set things right. He would like to retrieve his ring from the Kremlin library.

Kraft has offered to give Putin a new ring, with Putin’s name on it, and has suggested Trump could be the courier for both rings, the original as well as Kraft’s gift to Putin.

As it happens, Trump has to balance his desire to be cozy with Putin against the goals he has stated for the country he leads. Certainly a public request puts Putin in an uncomfortable position, because he may lose face with his colleagues if he returns it, and perhaps even if he does not. Graciously returning the ring would seal the good relationship Putin wants to have with Trump. Thus Putin would have to balance his interests as well.

Kraft has offered to give Putin a new ring, with Putin’s name engraved on it. He also suggested Trump could carry both rings – the original as well as Kraft’s gift to Putin – to win ample good will from everyone. Of course, Putin wants the original – that’s the one that gives him status – but now he has an opportunity to trade his status as a brazen thief for recognition as a gracious statesman. He may have doubts about how a trade like that appears in his own country, but he cannot have any doubt about the impact such a trade would have on his relationship with the United States. He could even present the ring to Kraft and Trump at a state dinner in Moscow. That would be an event!